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Is SIMI on the right track?
By Kaleem Kawaja

Washington: In the last few weeks the situation of the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) has become increasingly complex and a cause for concern. Almost every day the national press carries statements from SIMI office-bearers, laced with sensational & militant rhetoric. This rhetoric often appears to mirror the language used by the extremist Hindu groups, e.g. Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, RSS, BJP. While such statements catch the readers’ eyes and draw attention to SIMI, they also unknowingly help the enemies of Indian Muslims who are trying hard for decades to stereotype the entire community as extremist, militant and harmful to the nation.

While it is true that SIMI is not indulging in any illegal activities, is definitely not involved with any terrorist activities and has no connection with any foreign elements, its over-heated and sometimes inflammatory rhetoric makes even many secular Hindus uncomfortable. And it is a boon to the detractors of Muslims who want more and more secular Hindus to cross over to the side of BJP & RSS.

With elections in several states scheduled for early 2002, several political parties have started exploiting the SIMI rhetoric to once again play vote-bank politics with the entire Muslim community. These parties who have never done anything for the Muslims other than lip service, are now telling the Muslim community that by opposing the calls to ban SIMI, they are doing great service to the community. As in the past, a non-issue like SIMI is being made into a crucial issue of the community. It reminds me of how in the 1980s the Shah Bano affair, a total non-issue for the community, was blown out of proportion, made into an issue for the survival of the community, and exploited shamelessly by various political parties to steal the votes of the community, for which these parties had never done anything.

Today the real issues of the Muslim community are injustice, lack of security, unfair maligning, poverty, poor standard of education, unemployment, and marginalization from the social, political and national mainstream of the nation. A very large number of Muslim youth lack proper education, are unemployed, have little hope for their future and despair is the major theme of their daily lives. That causes quite a few of them to fall into undesirable activities that lead to further deterioration and impoverishment of the community.

When SIMI says that its objective is to improve the situation of the Muslim youth and build their characters, it strikes a chord with many sensible elements in the community. But unfortunately other than rebutting the fanatic Hindu elements, with likewise sensational rhetoric, SIMI has done hardly anything to fulfill their own oft-stated objective. They only need to look at the Students Islamic Trust (SIT), another organization for the Muslim youth for inspiration. SIT is performing yeoman service to the Muslim youth by spreading education, assisting Muslim educational institutions and Muslim students. In the last few years alone thousands of Muslim youth have become technical professionals who are earning decent salaries, thereby helping their families climb out of poverty and despair.

There are quite a few Muslim politicians, community leaders, many of them in various political parties, and Muslim NGOs, who are taking up the civic and political causes of the Muslim community, in various national forums, drawing the attention of the power structure towards these issues. Moreover, Muslim students in their early twenties, whom SIMI is focusing on, are in a period of their lives where wasting time in political activities will cause serious harm to their educational careers and their future.

SIMI will do well to stay away from continuous rebuttal and over-heated rhetoric responding to the inflammatory allegations of the fanatic Hindu groups like Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena, RSS, BJP etc. In many cities across the nation, the condition of many Muslim educational and social institutions is very poor and much improvement is needed. Also in many Muslim localities in these cities, out of despair, Muslim youth are falling into undesirable activities. For instance, Kanpur, where a few months ago a SIMI protest rally turned into a nightmare with grievous police brutalities and severe losses for the local Muslim community. The condition of at least two Muslim colleges in Kanpur, is very poor indeed. The buildings are falling apart, the quality of teachers is very poor and the management committees and school are locked in intense power struggle. Also, in several Muslim majority localities in Kanpur there is quite a bit of petty crime and the public sanitation facilities are in awful shape.

Let SIMI focus on these grievous problems of building the Qaum at the grass roots level. Let SIMI work with good Hindus to restore communal harmony between Muslims and Hindus in the many cities in the nation. SIMI should be able to see the trap that the fanatic Hindu elements are once again laying for the Muslim community, and stay away from falling a prey to it.

Mr Kawaja is the director of the Association of Indian Muslims of America, Washington, DC. q

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